The Nearly Men: Is London Irish RFC Underrated?

On a mild Friday night in West London, the unlikely became reality.

London Irish rocked the rugby world with a startling 29-20 win over Saracens, a team that up until then, was undefeated in the Premiership.

Prior to kickoff, everything pointed toward one outcome – a Saracens romping. 

The high flyers were sitting aloft the Premiership table with nine wins and countless internationals in their starting lineup.

Meanwhile, London Irish was struggling for form, languishing close to the bottom of the table after consistently finding themselves on the wrong side of close encounters.

Had Saracens prevailed, they would have achieved their longest winning run in the league, but the hosts didn’t come to capitulate. London Irish didn’t come to give Saracens a guard of honor, the squad came to win.

London Irish demonstrated that right from the off, bringing tenacity and speed to the breakdown to engineer quick ball out wide. This approach brought instant reward, as winger Ollie Hassell-Collins steered his way through traffic to dot down in the left corner and put his side in front within the opening minute.

Saracens looked shellshocked and never truly recovered from that early blow. Irish on the other hand, kept its foot on the gas and never relinquished that early advantage, but not for the want of trying.

The Exiles have been plagued by rough patches in almost every game this season, where discipline and accuracy go out the window, and their latest runout was no exception.


Here’s an update on the players returning from injuries.

Full Story ⬇️#YourSaracens💫

— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) December 24, 2022

With only 20 minutes on the clock, captain Adam Coleman was correctly penalized for a high tackle on opposing hooker Tom Woolstencroft, who appeared to be knocked out cold, before receiving treatment from medical staff.

The home crowd, fully aware their side had been the better thus far, groaned in disappointment, anticipating the inevitable red card and subsequent fallout.

Saracens, now with a man advantage, looked primed to strike, and yet continued to stutter in the face of a resilient Irish defense. 

Slowly, frustrations bubbled to the surface, and feistiness began to show when Owen Farrell was penalized for chirping back at the Irish pack.

It was far from vintage Saracens, and things got worse for the visitors, when flanker Ben Earl was shown the red card – incidentally, the first of his career – for an illegal tackle on Tom Pearson. Amazingly, only 15 minutes separated the two sendoffs.

Kapeli Pifeleti and Sean Maitland would go on to score either side of the half to reduce Irish’s advantage to just two points, after which, the hosts had their second implosion of the evening when Rory Jennings and Rob Simmons received yellow cards on consecutive plays.

Now, with only 12 men on the pitch, the Irish lead looked fragile. Saracens, sensing blood, tried to tighten the stranglehold, but to no avail. Once more, superb defending from the men in green stifled any onrushing attack.

Irish would go on to seal a famous win with a clinically executed breakaway try in the dying minutes of the game. 

Smiles from ear to ear 😁

Your support was phenomenal yesterday #ExileNation ☘️

— London Irish (@londonirish) December 24, 2022

It began with a lineout steal on half way, followed quickly by a sublime break by Pearson, who stepped past one tackler, before handing off another. The flanker came up just short of the line, but Irish was quick to clear-out. 

With the Saracens defense backpedaling, the ball was shifted out to Chandler Cunningham-South, who found a slight gap and bundled over to secure a famous win for the hosts.

Victories are a precious commodity to London Irish at the moment, but this one will be hard to match. 

Not only did London Irish topple an undefeated juggernaut, it was done with fewer men on the field on two separate occasions, still outplaying Saracens for large swathes of the contest.

Irish, despite what the team’s position in the league table suggests, is a very good side. 

The Exiles have the bedrock of an accomplished team, spearheaded by Argentinian hooker Agustin Creevy, carried by the physical prowess of Pearson and Benhard van Rensburg, and the box office exploits of Hassell-Collins, Ben Loader and Henry Arundell.

Even so, their latest win came as a huge surprise to many, precisely because of their poor run of results.

In that run, London Irish has been crippled by blips in form, taking the contest out of their hands. 

However, against Saracens the Exiles demonstrated an ability to ride out the storm and rally together in the face of adversity. 

The challenge for Irish now is to replicate that on a weekly basis. If that can be achieved, they will quickly begin to rise up the league table.

Written by Stefan Frost

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